Humber (car)

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Not to be confused with Hummer.
Industry Automotive industry
Fate Merged
Successor Rootes Group
Founded 1868
Defunct 1931
Headquarters Coventry, England
Products Automobiles
Subsidiaries 1929–1931 Hillman Motor Car Company
Humber Marque
Owner PSA
Country United Kingdom
Discontinued 1976
Markets Automotive
Previous owners 1868–1931 Humber
1931–1967 Rootes Group
1967–1979 Chrysler

Humber Limited was a British manufacturer of bicycles, motorcycles and motor vehicles incorporated and listed on the stock exchange in 1887. At that time it took the name Humber & Co Limited because of the high reputation of the products of one of the constituent businesses that had belonged to Thomas Humber. To recognise a financial reconstruction in 1899 the name was changed to Humber Limited.

From an interest in motor vehicles beginning in 1896 the motor division grew much more important than the cycle division and the cycle trade marks were sold to Raleigh in 1932. The motorcycles were withdrawn from sale during the depression of the 1930s.

Humber is now a dormant automobile as well as cycle marque. Following their involvement in Humber through Hillman in 1928 the Rootes brothers[1] acquired 60 per cent of the ordinary capital, sufficient for a controlling interest. The two Rootes brothers joined the Humber board in 1932 making Humber the holding company for vehicle manufacturing members of what became their Rootes Group.



Cycle industry
Safety bicycle, c. 1890
Motorcycle 2¾ hp, 1904
Cycle manufacturers
to the King, 1903

The cycle industry was consolidating in the late1880s and Humber and company promoter Lambert sold Thomas Humber's business to investors who added a number of other substantial cycle manufacturers[note 1] and then floated the new combine on the stock exchange.[2] Such was the public's recognition of Humber products and their high quality and reliability the whole new organisation was named Humber & Co Limited though Humber's was not the largest component. Thomas Humber agreed to manage the whole enterprise with its works in Coventry and Wolverhampton as well as Beeston. He retired in 1892 at the end of his 5-year contract.[3]

Humber expanded into Europe and in 1896 their subsidiary, Humber (France), joined with La Société des Vélocipedes Clément and La Société des Cycles Gladiator obtaining stock exchange listings in order to form "one of the largest Cycle monopolies in Europe" and with the intention of improving the position of Humber (France). The directors expressed the greatest interest in the new industry of motor carriages and cycles for which extensive works were to be erected by the monopoly at Levallois Perret. At the time of the flotation agencies were already established in all principal towns in France, St Petersburg, Copenhagen, Milan, Athens, Brussels, Bucharest, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Buenos Ayres, Santiago, Constantinople, Algiers, Sfax, Tunis, Alexandria, Saigon, Hong Kong, Port Said and throughout the whole of South America. The chairman of directors was chairman of Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co and another director was the manager of Dunlop (France). Negotiations between the parties were completed by Ernest Terah Hooley.[4] The ambitious new combine was not successful, disputes between the partners dragged through the English courts until the turn of the century. A severe economic recession in 1899 then brought about a financial reconstruction and the incorporation of a new company, Humber Limited, to continue the existing business.[5]

First series production cars

In 1896 Humber built a prototype and nine production motorcars in their new Coventry premises. In November 1896 a car was exhibited at the 'Stanley Cycle Show' in London. They are claimed to be the first series production cars made in England.[6]

At Humber & Company's next general meeting in 1897 the managing director said they had received many letters asking if they would produce a motorised vehicle, and that they had in fact been working on this project for 2 years, but had delayed production until they found a suitably reliable engine. Having now found an engine they were gearing up for production.[7]

The first Humber car was produced in 1898 under the guidance of Thomas Humber ?? and was a three-wheeled tricar with their first conventional four-wheeled car appearing in 1901. The company had factories in Beeston near Nottingham as well as Stoke, Coventry. The Beeston factory produced a more expensive range known as Beeston-Humbers but the factory closed in 1908 on the opening of the new works at Stoke.

Humberette c. 1912

On 12 March 1908 the new works was officially opened at Stoke, then just outside the city of Coventry. New buildings covered 13.5 acres and allowed for the employment of 5,000 hands. The new works was designed to be capable of producing 150 cars and 1,500 cycles per week.[8] Another financial reconstruction was made in 1909.[9] The Humber Motor Works in Coventry still survives—a rare thing as the majority of the city was destroyed in the November 1940 air raid.

Before the First World War a wide range of models were produced from the 600 cc Humberette to several six-cylinder 6-litre models. In 1913 Humber was second only to Wolseley as the largest manufacturer of cars in the United Kingdom.


In 1925 Humber moved into the production of commercial vehicles with the purchase of Commer. In 1929 Hillman, under the control of the Rootes brothers, was added but independence ended in 1931 when the Rootes brothers bought a majority shareholding.

Pullman Landaulette Brisbane 1954
Humber Cycles

There was a resurgence in domestic and export demand for pedal bicycles and in February 1932 Raleigh acquired all the Humber cycles trade marks. Manufacture was transferred to Raleigh's Nottingham works.[10]

Prior to WWII and after, many large long wheel based Humber Limousines were built with English, Australian, American and even a few European coachbuilders' special bodies. Thrupp & Maberly of London, later acquired by Rootes, built many of the coachbuilt bodies for the Pullman and Imperial limousines. Most of these surviving cars in Australia are fitted with Thrupp and Maberly aluminium bodies. The series V Imperial was bodied by Thrupp and Maberly and is quite rare today.

Thrupp and Maberly built a special body for an eight-cylinder Sunbeam in 1936 which was given to King Edward VIII. After his abdication the car was returned to the factory, significantly altered and then eventually sold as a Humber with a new six cylinder engine and altered grille and body.


The Ryton on Dunsmore plant began as a 1939 shadow factory to build aero engines. It was closed at the end of 2006 and demolished in 2007. There are more details at the separate article on Ryton plant.

Scout car
Personnel transport
Armoured car Tripoli 1943
Staff car Montgomery Italy 1943

During World War II, military ordered cars were produced for the armed services. several armoured cars These were produced under the Humber name, along with heavy-duty "staff" cars. The standard Humber cars, limousines,specially prepared war models and military 4x4 vehicles (which were fitted with Rolls Royce engines), were extremely robust and gave excellent reliability and performance in difficult terrain in both Northern Africa and Europe.

General Montgomery, Commander of the British and Allied forces in Northern Africa during the Desert war of WWII, had two specially built Humber Super Snipe four door convertibles made with larger front wings or guards, mine proof floors, special fittings and long range fuel tanks. Two cars were built for him and used in the Africa campaign against General Rommel, who used open tourer large, long range convertible Mercedes Benz's. Montgomery's Humbers were known as 'Old Faithful' and the 'Victory Car'. Both cars still exist in full military regalia in museums in England and are a testament to the high engineering and manufacturing standards of Humber and Rootes Ltd. The victory car drove Montgomery and Churchill through the streets of London during the VE parades at the end of WWII.

These side valve, large Humber cars, trucks,4 x 4 vehicles and armoured cars were remarkably robust and have amazing longevity. In Australia many war surplus Humber cars and trucks spent over forty years on farms used by farmers and the Country fire authority in very reliable service in tough and harsh conditions.


In the postwar era, Humber's mainstay products included the four-cylinder Hawk and six-cylinder Super Snipe. Being a choice of businessmen and officialdom alike, Humbers gained a reputation for beautifully appointed interiors and build quality. The Hawk and the Super Snipe went through various designs, though all had a "transatlantic" influence. They offered disc brakes and automatic transmission at a time when these fitments were rare. Powersteering was also available in Australia.

Sceptre 1967

A top-flight model, the Imperial, had these as standard, along with metallic paintwork and other luxury touches such as extra courtesy lights and vinyl covered black roof and electrically operated rear adjustable suspension. The last of the traditional large Humbers, the series VA Super Snipe (fitted with twin Stromberg CD 100 Carburettors) were sold in 1968, when Chrysler, who by then owned the Rootes group, ended production. Several V8 models had been in pre-production at this time, but were never publicly sold. Several of these test examples survive today.

Rootes' last car was the second generation of Humber Sceptre, a badge-engineered Rootes Arrow model. The marque was shelved in 1976 when all Hillmans became badged as Chryslers. The Hillman Hunter (another Arrow model) was subsequently badged as a Chrysler until production ceased in 1979 when Chrysler's European division was sold to Peugeot and the marque renamed Talbot. The Talbot marque was abandoned at the end of 1986 on passenger cars, although it was continued on vans for six years afterwards.


Main models[edit]

  • Humber 8 1902
  • Humber 12 1902
  • Humber 20 1903
  • Humberette Voiturette 1903-1911
  • Humber 8/10 1905
  • Humber 10/12 1905–07
  • Humber 30/40 1908–09
  • Humberette Cycle Car 1912-1915
  • Humber 11 1912
  • Humber 10 1919–21
  • Humber 15.9 1919–25
  • Humber 11.4 and 12/25 1921–25
  • Humber 8/18 1922–25
  • Humber 15/40 1924–28
  • Humber 9/20 and 9/28 1925–30
  • Humber 14/40 1926–29
  • Humber 20/55 and 20/65 1926–29
  • Humber 16/50 1928–32
  • Humber Snipe 1929–47
  • Humber 16–60 1933–35
  • Humber 12 1933–37
  • Humber 16 1936–40
  • Humber Pullman 1930–54
  • Humber Imperial 1938–67
  • Humber Hawk 1945–67
  • Humber Super Snipe 1938–67
  • Humber Sceptre 1961–67,1967–76
  • Humber Vogue 1963–66 (Australia)

Surviving cars[edit]

There is a thriving club, and many of these upmarket cars survive today.

The world's largest collection of Humber cars can be viewed at the Marshalls Post-Vintage Humber Car Museum in Hull. It includes 21 Humber cars dating from 1932 to 1970 on permanent display, plus 24 unrestored cars.[11][12]

When Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother visited Western Australia in the 1950s, a Humber was shipped over for her. It was left in a paddock, and was rediscovered and verified in 2002. It has since been restored and is currently privately owned.


Rotary aero engine BR2. Humber Limited
design: W. O. Bentley for Humber
Sopwith F.1 Camel and 7F.1 Snipe; Nieuport B.N.1; Vickers F.B.26A Vampire II. and others

Humber produced a number of aircraft and aero-engines in the years before the First World War. In 1909 the company signed a contract to build 40 copies of the Blériot XI monoplane, powered by their own three-cylinder engine,[13] and four aircraft were exhibited at the Aero Show at Olympia in 1910.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
    • Humber & Co, Beeston
    • Coventry Cycle Company, Coventry
    • Express Cycle Works, Wolverhampton
    • Wellington Works, Coventry
    ". . . at once becomes the most powerful combination in this growing and lucrative industry."


  1. ^ "In December 1928 Rootes Limited, the well-known Distributors of Motor Vehicles, acquired an important financial interest in the Company and since then great improvement in the methods of manufacture and sales including the re-equipment of the Works on up-to-date lines, has taken place. In July 1932 a thorough reorganization of the financial structure of the Company was effected, unproductive capital being written off and new capital introduced, and Mr W E Rootes and Mr R C Rootes joined the Board of the Company."
    Humber Limited, prospectus for the issue of preference shares. The Times, Thursday, Feb 07, 1935; pg. 19; Issue 46982; col. F.
  2. ^ Public Companies. The Times, Saturday, Jun 18, 1887; pg. 4; Issue 32102
  3. ^ Paul Freund, 'Humber, Thomas (1841–1910)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2012
  4. ^ Clément, Gladiator, And Humber (France), Limited. The Times, Monday, Oct 12, 1896; pg. 13; Issue 35019
  5. ^ Humber and Company (Limited). The Times, Friday, Mar 09, 1900; pg. 3; Issue 36085
  6. ^ The Stanley Cycle Show. The Times, Saturday, Nov 21, 1896; pg. 13; Issue 35054
  7. ^ "Humber & Co", The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal, Dec 1897, p91
  8. ^ Humber (Limited), New Motor-car and Cycle Works. The Times, Wednesday, Mar 18, 1908; pg. 5; Issue 38597.
  9. ^ Humber (Limited). The Times, Tuesday, Feb 02, 1909; pg. 12; Issue 38872.
  10. ^ Roger Lloyd-Jones, Myrddin John Lewis, Mark Eason, Raleigh and the British Bicycle Industry: An Economic and Business History, 1870-1960, Ashgate Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1859284574
  11. ^ "BBC News UK Remembering the Humber". 26 April 2000. Retrieved 18 August 2006. 
  12. ^ "". Retrieved 18 August 2006. [dead link]
  13. ^ "British-Built Engines and Bleriot Monoplanes"Flight 25 September 1909

External links[edit]